The Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine is the largest Cherokee gem mine situated on the Qualla Boundary in Downtown North Cherokee, North Carolina. It allows visitors to seek out gems, with the added benefit of having the equipment provided on site. It is open to the public daily between March and November from 10-6 with buses and groups welcome, and admission is free of charge.
The Cherokee Indians are thought to have first arrived in the Smoky Mountains around 1,000 A.D, and named the area "Shaconage'', or "place of blue smoke''. However, the arrival of European settlers and the discovery of gold in neighboring state Georgia brought about a mandate in 1830 from President Jackson forcing almost all the Cherokee to leave. Some refused to leave and hid in the mountains.
Prospectors came looking for not just gold in the 19th century, but also silver, tin, copper and zinc, which led to larger companies moving to the area to build mines. By 1889 the Qualla Indian Reservation was chartered in North Carolina to serve as the Cherokee's home. They have remained here ever since and are known as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.
This mining attraction enables visitors to look for hardwearing gemstones such as aquamarines, garnets, topaz, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. There are professionals at hand, who can help identify they type of stone and whether or not it is genuine. If visitors are fortunate enough to find gemstones, they can also have them cut to the customer's specifications.
When gemstones are found it is hard to establish exactly what they are, which is why it is important to have professionals at the mine to help visitors. Sapphire and ruby rough for example are both the same mineral called Corundum. Uncleaned these gems will have an outer crust, which has to be removed and cleaned in order to distinguish between the ruby (red) or sapphire (any other color than red).
The attraction also has expert jewellery makers there to create custom made jewellery. Stones can be cut and polished to make a nice ring or necklace amongst other things, and can make a nice present for someone.
The gold panning part is the biggest attraction for the children. A gold panning kit can be bought for use on site and includes a bag of gold ore, instructions and an eye dropper. Visitors can also purchase a take home kit for use any time and any place, as there are many other mines in the Smoky Mountains.
Previous visitors to the attraction have made comments that it is a place worth trying out. That said praise for the mine was not over the top. However, it does appear to be a place that families can enjoy together as children can get messy panning for gold, but it probably would not suit real ore mining enthusiasts. It is a good educational alternative to the beach or a theme park.